Bob Dylan takes on the Rolling Stones, Hitler and Obama

04.20.09 9 years ago

AP Photo/Stew Milne

If you are even remotely a fan of Bob Dylan- and by that I mean if you can even name one of his songs, drop what you’re doing and read this.

It’s a long, but very digestible Q&A with the master himself conducted by Bill Flanagan. Dylan’s website has been rolling the interview out in installments, like a serialized novel, and it is riveting. It takes Flanagan a few minutes to get Dylan going, but he knows exactly when to pry and when to let an exchange go and let the answer, as short as it may be, marinate in Dylan’s brilliance.

I have a bit of a confession to make in that I’ve never really gotten into Dylan’s music as much as I want to. I’m young enough to have missed him in the ’60s and I’ve never taken the time to go back and explore his stuff. I feel like I don’t have the time to properly devote to it-as if I need a study plan, like reading the Bible or something like that. After reading this interview, it’s clear that Dylan doesn’t take himself seriously, so maybe I need to just jump right in and quit feeling so intimidated.

In addition to dissecting the new album, “Together Through Life,” which comes out April 28, Dylan and Flanagan discuss the Civil War, Obama, Hitler, Elvis and anything that comes up…including the following excerpts about mysticism:

Are you a mystical person?


Any thoughts about why?

I think it’s the land. The streams, the forests, the vast emptiness. The land created me. I’m wild and lonesome. Even as I travel the cities, I’m more at home in the vacant lots. But I have a love for humankind, a love of truth, and a love of justice. I think I have a dualistic nature. I’m more of an adventurous type than a relationship type.

But the album is all about love – love found, love lost, love remembered, love denied.

Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it.”

That’s just crazy to think that Dylan is a mere mortal like the rest of us, who grabs the muse as she presents herself. The following exchange made me laugh since Flanagan somewhat makes Dylan backtrack. Imagine Mick and Keith’s relief.

“What do you think of the Stones?

What do I think of them? They’re pretty much finished, aren’t they?

They had a gigantic tour last year. You call that finished? 

Ohyeah, you mean Steel Wheels. I’m not saying they don’t keep going, but they need Bill. Without him they’re a funk band. They’ll be the real Rolling Stones when they get Bill back.

Bob, you’re stuck in the 80’s.

I know. I’m trying to break free.

Do you really think the Stones are finished?

Of course not, They’re far from finished. The Rolling Stones are truly the greatest rock and roll band in the world and always will be. The last too. Everything that came after them, metal, rap, punk, new wave, pop-rock, you name it . . . you can trace it all back to the Rolling Stones. They were the first and the last and no one’s ever done it better.”

Flanagan also asked Dylan his favorite songwriters. Included in the list is Jimmy Buffett, which shocked me, but the fact is Buffett’s hits don’t reflect the depth of his songwriting prowess; they are more a demonstration of his ability to write populist-pleasing tunes. Some of his deeper cuts are simply beautiful. Check out his boxed set, “Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads” to get a better understanding of his depth.

In the next exchange, it’s easy to believe Dylan is simply trading on fake humility, but he’s right.

“A lot of the acts from your generation seem to be trading on nostalgia. They play the same songs the same way for the last 30 years. Why haven’t you ever done that?

I couldn’t if I tried. Those guys you are talking about all had conspicuous hits. They started out anti-establishment and now they are in charge of the world. Celebratory songs. Music for the grand dinner party. Mainstream stuff that played into the culture on a pervasive level. My stuff is different from those guys. It’s more desperate. Daltrey, Townshend, McCartney, the Beach Boys, Elton, Billy Joel. They made perfect records, so they have to play them perfectly … exactly the way people remember them. My records were never perfect. So there is no point in trying to duplicate them. Anyway, I’m no mainstream artist.”

The only thing that would have made it better would be to hear this interview instead of read it. We all know that Dylan’s voice sounds like a gravel road. Flanagan speaks in a very calm, low-key way. You know the person in the room that a cat always gravitates to because they’re the calmest person? That’s what Flanagan is like. Reading this, it’s possible to imagine someone getting flustered by some of Dylan’s responses, but knowing Flanagan, I’m sure that wasn’t the case.

Great stuff.

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